Build A Great Panfish Setup

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Just getting into panfish? Make sure you have the proper gear. Having the proper gear like an ultralight rod, and razor sharp hooks can not only help you catch more panfish, but you’ll you have more fun doing it.

Choosing a Rod For Your Panfish Setup

Pflueger President. Ultralight fishing reel.
My Daiwa Presso Rod with the Pflueger President reel is my favorite match for trout and bluegill.

Ultralight rods and poles are the most fun to use on panfish. They will make a bluegill feel like a decent sized fish.

When I say ultralight, don’t think short… think thin. I like to use a 7 foot ultralight rod. The longer the rod, the farther you can cast.

Choosing the right rod isn’t only about feel. It also has a lot to do with technique and presentation of the bait.

It is important to have a very light presentation of the bait to panfish, because a big bobber splashing on the water will spook the school. An ultralight panfish setup will allow you to cast the smallest and lightest floats.

Using a long pole (which is a fishing rod that doesn’t have a reel and you just tie your line to the end of it) allows you to dip the bait and float in the water gently to where there is no splash at all. I’ll get more into the panfish pole setup at the end of this article.

Panfish setup Reel Selection

The reel you choose also has to do with comfort and presentation.

You want a reel size that matches your ultralight rod. Usually you can buy these already packaged together in a combo. Your reel will help balance the rod in your hand, and feel less awkward to use.

There are different types of reels and my recommendation is a spinning reel. these work best on ultralight rods for casting light weight floats and baits.

Fishing Line For Panfish

The lighter the line the better. In most tackle shops you can get 2lb test or 4lb test. For most people I recommend using 4lb test. It’s easier to work with and gets fewer tangles than 2 pound test.

4 pound test is also good if you accidentally hook into a bigger fish like a carp. You’ll have a better chance of landing it and getting the hook out. I have landed a big carp on 2 pound test line when fishing with my bluegill setup, but it wasn’t easy.

common carp on panfish setup
Carp I caught on 2 pound line while fishing for bluegill


fly fishing hooks for bluegill and panfish
My preferred hook for small bluegill.

Now that you’re all set up with your panfish rod, reel and line, It’s time to get some good hooks. Choosing the right hooks can have the biggest impact on how many bluegill you catch.

There are many different shapes and sizes of hooks out there. Fortunately the hooks you use for bluegill are the most common. Just use a J-hook in size 12. And make sure it’s super sharp! Gamakatsu makes a good, sharp baitholder style hook that works great.

You can use hooks smaller than size 12 and will probably catch more fish with smaller hooks. But the problem is that bluegill will usually swallow the hook and get it stuck deep in the throat. Since their mouths are so small, it’s extremely difficult to remove the hooks. I recommend size 12 because they usually don’t swallow them as deep.

fly fishing hooks for bluegill
I’ve been experimenting with 3X long fly fishing hooks in size 14 and only gut-hook about 1 in 10 fish now.

It also helps to pinch down the barbs to make it easier to get the hook out.

If you are fishing for bigger bluegill, try Aberdeen hooks. They have very long shanks which help when removing the hook. But most Aberdeen hooks only come in larger sizes that will be too big for average bluegill.

Honestly, the worst part about catching bluegill is how often you gut-hook them, and the time you waste trying to get them unhooked.


foam fishing bobbers are durable

Above, I mentioned that the Thill Mini-Shy Bite floats are great for bluegill. But if you can’t find these, you can use small cigar floats. Some cigar floats are weighted, some aren’t, either one will work. The weighted floats will cast farther, but make a bigger splash when they hit the water.

If you still can’t find any long thin floats, then just use the smallest float you can find that will still float your bait. And foam floats are better than plastic for durability and stealth reasons. You can even look in the fly fishing section for “strike indicators.” these will be small foam floats that will be very sensitive.

Chinese vs Western fishing floats for panfish
These are floats I bought in Taiwan. They are extremely sensitive but difficult to get in the US.


forceps are an important fishing tool

Forceps will help a lot when trying to unhook bluegill. As I mentioned above, bluegill love to swallow the bait and end up hooked deep in the throat. It’s almost impossible to get your fingers into their little mouths so you’ll need forceps.

Even forceps can be too big for most bluegill so that’s why I’m working on a better solution.

Cane Pole Setup For Panfish

pole fishing setup for bluegill and panfish
4′ telescopic pole from Taiwan

A pole setup work extremely well for panfish fishing. It’s my favorite way to catch bluegill. I say cane pole, but these days poles are made out of modern materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber. These light weight materials are a lot more enjoyable to use.

Pole Length For Panfish

Choose a pole that is long enough to reach out to wherever the bluegill are. Sometimes I’ll use a 4 foot pole, sometimes I’ll use a 7 footer. I have a 12 and a 16 footer but I rarely need those for bluegill.

Your line should be the same length as your pole. So the total distance you can reach is the length of your Pole + Line until your float. So, if I’m fishing 3 feet deep under a float and using a 7 foot rod, then my reach is 11 feet.

If you need to get your bait out more than 11 feet, then you’ll want a longer pole. If the water is murky and deep right off the bank, then I’ll use my 4 foot pole to get about 5 feet off the bank.

How To Pole Fish For Panfish

Once you have your pole set up with your line, float, and hook, just gently swing the baited hook and float out and set it delicately into the water so you don’t create any splash.

micro fishing float for panfish setup

It may take some practice, but you’ll get to where you can swing your line out perfectly flat and set it gently into the water.

When a panfish bites, and your float goes down, use just the flick of the wrist to set the hook. Try not to get too excited, or else you’re hook will come flying out of the water and get stuck in a tree or hook someone behind you.


You don’t have to get a super specialized setup to catch bluegill or other panfish. If you already have a trout rod, just spend a few bucks to get some good floats and hooks. These will make the biggest difference.

If you aren’t sure what bait to use, I have a few recommendations in this article on bluegill bait. These baits have caught me hundreds of panfish and almost nobody else is using them!

By John

Hi I'm John. I'm the author of I have been obsessed with fishing since my dad took me to catch bluegill in the creek as a little kid, over 20 years ago. I love learning and perfecting all kinds of fishing techniques. I have spent time living in different countries learning their unique traditional fishing methods, and then combining the best of all worlds to catch as many fish as possible. My hope is that this website can help you, or someone you are teaching, to have a better fishing experience early on so that you too can be hooked into this wonderful sport.

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